Alice's eyes widened from behind the counter as the courier entered, shielded behind a cascade of vibrant roses. They had to be for Emily. Her latest boyfriend was always showering her with gifts, and Valentine's day was coming up this week.
Alice smiled as the man approached and set the vase on the counter. She could smell the rich scent of the bouquet and she leaned forward to breathe it in. The heady perfume filled her head as she admired the blooms. They were yellow and orange by the stems and then faded to deep red and pink on the tips of the petals.
The man looked at the card and then at her, "Is Alice here?"
"I'm Alice," she stammered.
"These are for you," he said.
He smiled at her, "Somebody must think you're pretty special."
"Yeah," she said absently. She couldn't take her eyes off the flowers. She reached for the card and began to open it as the man turned to leave.
"Have a good day," she called to him. He smiled and waved as he walked out of the shop.
The card read, "143."
A cryptic message, but she knew the flowers had to be from Josh. They'd been dating for several months now and were starting to get serious. But, he wasn't usually the romantic type. She picked up the phone by the register and dialed his cell.
"Hey," he answered.
"Hey. I'm at work and you won't believe what's on the counter," she said, the smile on her face coming through in her voice.
"Oh yeah. What's on the counter?" he asked, obviously playing along with her game.
"A dozen of the most beautiful roses I've ever seen." Alice's voice was positively giddy.
"You like them?" he asked.
"Of course I do. They're gorgeous."
"They're sunset roses," he stated proudly.
"That's exactly what they look like! They've got shades of yellow and orange and red."
"I'm glad you like them."
"Oh, I do. Thank you. I forgot to say it earlier, but thanks. I can't believe you sent me flowers."
"Well, it is Valentine's this week."
"True," she said.
"Are you coming over after work?" he asked.
"Yes, I'd like to."
"That'd be great. I've got to get a few more things done at the office this afternoon, but I'll see you there tonight."
"That sounds good," she said.
Alice hung up the phone and glanced at the clock. It was three thirty. Emily was scheduled to work at four and then Alice could leave at five. Maybe she'd scoot out a little early today if they weren't busy.
She looked down at the card in her hand and realized she had forgotten to ask what one-four-three meant. Unfortunately she needed to get back to work so she resisted the urge to call Josh back. She'd just have to be patient and wait till tonight. Five o'clock couldn't come fast enough.
Emily ooh'ed and ahh'ed over the flowers when she arrived and agreed that they were the most beautiful roses she'd ever seen. Alice watched the clock tick by slowly until four forty-five when she asked Emily if she could leave just a little bit early today. Emily smiled and told her she didn't mind in the least.
Alice decided to leave the flowers at work since she would be back the next morning. Besides, she liked displaying them where people could comment and ask her who they were from. She didn't get that sort of attention often, and wanted to enjoy the sudden adoration Josh had lavished on her. She pulled one stem out of the vase and took it with her as she walked out of the store. She sniffed the flower on the way to her car, inhaling it's rich scent. She smiled as she thought of Josh talking with the florist, taking the time to pick out something special and not just going with the standard red roses.
She left work and drove straight to Josh's apartment. He answered the door with an expectant grin.
Alice leaned in and kissed him firmly on the mouth. Josh pulled her to him and inside the apartment, closing the door behind them. Her hands were on his shoulders, holding him close to her. He leaned her against the back of the door as their kiss deepened. This heat had been between them from the beginning, and the strength of it still amazed them both.
When they broke from the kiss, Alice leaned her head back against the door. Her mouth was curved in a satisfied smile and her cheeks were flushed. She still had the single rose in one hand and she lifted it to run the bloom down her cheek. Her eyes closed and a sigh left her lips at the feel of velvety softness against her skin.
Josh took the rose from her and taking her hand in his, led her down the short hallway to his bedroom. Their eyes stayed locked one another as they slowly undressed. Alice laid back on the bed and Josh moved to lay beside her, the rose in his hand. He leaned over her and skimmed the petals along he r body. He traced the curve of her neck and collarbone before running it between the mounds of her breasts. He continued teasing her with feather caresses until Alice was writhing on the bed. He set the flower aside and began to move on top of her.
As he looked down at her she gave him a quizzical look and whispered, "I forgot to ask earlier, but what does one-four-three mean?"
Josh smiled as he replied, "It's the number of letters in each of the words."
Alice cocked her head at him.
"I love you," Josh murmured.
Understanding dawned on Alice's face, but before she could voice her amazement, he captured her mouth in an ardent kiss.